This week’s news: ShoeDazzle & JustFab, mobile image recognition, Tictail

Welcome to the new edition of “This week’s news”, a selection of links to interesting articles and news from the worlds of blogs, commerce and e-commerce.

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The purchase of the Washington Post by Amazon CEO and founder Jeff Bezos has put the unconventional entrepreneur (once again) into the spotlight. But who is he, what motives and drives him, and why is he willing to invest 250 million dollar into a ageing newspaper? This New York Times portrait is trying to give answers.

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ShoeDazzle and JustFab, two Los Angeles based fashion websites selling women shoes, have announced a merger, creating the “world’s largest fashion subscription e-commerce company”. Together, both sites have 33 million members and generate more than $400 million in annual revenue. Both brands will continue to exist, because “no woman shops at one fashion retailer”, as JustFab co-CEO Adam Goldenberg put it.

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What would happen if people had the option to take a photo of products or clothes they see somewhere “in the wild” and instantly getting the chance to purchasing them from their smartphones? Clearly, mobile image recognition could revolutionize e-commerce. Practical Ecommerce explains that this kind of technology will become possible in the next years.

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Stockholm-based Tictail is one of the most outstanding and prominent e-commerce startups right now. The company enables everybody to set up an online shop within minutes, for free. More than 20.000 stores have been created until now. Venture Village has met the Tictail-team and asked a couple of questions.

Blogging is more popular than ever before

Even though millions of people publish in blogs, and despite the fact that blogs actually have a bigger influence on purchase decisions than Facebook, it’s an ongoing meme that people supposedly have moved on from blogging to other social media channels. While it is true that there is more fragmentation in the social media sphere and that the occasional Twitter or Facebook post from today might have ended up as a very short blog post a few years ago, blogging itself could not be more far away from outdated or irrelevant. And we have numbers to prove that:

Blog posts in Swedish per year

Being based in Sweden, a country of early adopters where blogging took of many years ago, we wanted to know whether blogging has peaked here or not. So we used our blog data to find out. The clear answer: It hasn’t! With almost 17 million posts published on blogs in Swedish in 2012, blogging activity has been tremendously bigger than in the year before, when less than 14 million posts appeared on Swedish blogs. The highest number of blog posts per month was published in October, with about 1,8 million.

Blog posts in Swedish per month

Analysing the number of bloggers we found that almost 400.000 people wrote at least one blog post in Swedish in 2012. Among them, 172.178 were active bloggers, meaning that they wrote at least one blog post per quarter.

Number of active bloggers in Sweden

We also had a look at how 2013 started compared to 2012, and even there we witnessed an increase in blogging activity: The number of blog posts published in the beginning of 2013 was almost 26 percent higher than in early 2012, and we saw more active bloggers during the first month of 2013 than in the same period of last year.

All in all, at least when focusing on Sweden, blogging as a phenomenon might not create the same headlines anymore as some years ago, but the actual activity is still on the rise. Blogging can be seen as the foundation of social media, with all the other communication channels and tools based around it. That was the case back in 2009, and that’s even more the case today.

If you understand Swedish, here are some more thoughts about the state of blogging in Sweden.

Let’s blog!

As predicted, blogging platform Posterous is shutting down

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We saw it coming, and now it is happening: Posterous, one of the first mini-/fast-blogging tools of the past years, is closing its doors on April 30. At the end of October we described how there were an increasing number of signs that suggested an upcoming shutdown. Half a year earlier Twitter announced the acquisition of Posterous. Already back then many observers saw this as a talent acquisition rather as a product or platform acquisition. With the official announcement on the Posterous blog that the team will focus 100 percent on its efforts at Twitter, this theory turns out to be true.

Even though Posterous was quite unstable and full of bugs back in October, the service didn’t provide its users with a proper backup tool. Fortunately, that has changed. All remaining Posterous users can go to https://posterous.com/#backup to access a .zip-File with all blog posts and comments. For everybody who plans to transfer their blog to WordPress, WordPress offers an internal Posterous importer. In our October post we explained how to use it in order to move all Posterous content to a WordPress blog.

The demise of Posterous does not say anything about the state of blogging. Tumblr, which launched during the same time as Posterous managed to grow exponentially and is going strong even today whereas Posterous never left its early adopter niche. An while Posterous will be history soon, a couple of new contenders such as Quora, Svtble, Medium and even LinkedIn have entered the blogging space in various ways.

Posterous lost because it couldn’t keep up with the competition. It’s probably better that Twitter finally pulls the switch instead of keeping it online while at the same time completely neglecting it.

Stats show that users just can’t stop blogging

If you following the public debate about technology on the web, it is very likely that you at least once have stumbled over an article, tweet or comment claiming that blogs are slowly disappearing, and eventually might die. A seemingly obvious argument that would support this theory is the appearance of a huge number of ways for users to publish their thoughts and opinions. Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and Pinterest are growing rapidly and are often being seen as the easier and quicker way for publishing of text and personal media.

And while that might be true in some cases, recent statistics from Nielsen/McKinsey research company NM Incite show that despite the increasing number of competing publishing platforms and the huge amount of time users spend on social media sites, the number of blogs is continuing to grow.

In October 2011, NM Incite tracked over 173 million blogs around the world as source of buzz. At the end of the year, that number had risen to 181 million. In 2006, the company only tracked 36 million. As the graph shows, this growth has been steady, with no slowdown during the past two years, when social media exploded.

So everybody who still thinks blogging has no future should rethink that statement. But what’s certainly going to happen is a fragmentation of the blogging landscape in terms of which platforms and technologies are being used. Just look at Google+ where some users post extensive texts. That might not be blogging in the traditional sense because no typical blog CMS is used, no pingbacks are being sent and no layout customization is possible. Nevertheless it doesn’t seem right to claim those users aren’t blogging just because they do it within a social network.

The NM Incite stats offer some additional insights into who bloggers are: The majority is female and half of all bloggers are aged between 18 and 34. Furthermore, bloggers are well-educated and active social web users – no real surprise here. In the US, the three biggest blog platforms Blogger, WordPress and Tumblr reach 80 million unique visitors per month.

So yes, blogging will evolve and change, and some users might even leave their old-fashioned blog in favour of a better connected social-media-site. But the need for people to express won’t be affected by that. We don’t know which platform they will use in 2, 5 or 10 years. But there is one thing we know for sure: They won’t stop publishing online.

“It makes sense to let our customers tell their own stories”

Did you know that even one of the largest ferry operators in the world, Stena Line, is making use of Twingly technology? If not you should definitely read the following inteview with Ronja Gustavsson, Social Web Strategist at the Gothenburg-based company. And if you did, you should read it anyway ; ) Stena Line uses our Blogwatch widget to show blog posts mentioning destinations that are connected to Stena Line’s network of ferry services – like here for example.

Ronja GustavssonWhy did you decide to integrate Twingly Blogwatch?
We integrated Twingly Blogwatch into our website in order to create a more transparent presence online, and so that customers have the chance to read other people’s Stena Line travel experiences. We think it is important to highlight our customer’s own stories to show a more nuanced and deeper picture about our products and services.

What importance do blogs have for your business compared to other, more traditional media channels and compared to social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter?
Blogs are very much a personal story, and bloggers are big influencers. Stena Line has chosen to work and cooperate with bloggers in the same way as we do with traditional journalists. Blogs help us to gain credibility and to increase the awareness of our products, but they also provide us with constructive feedback that can lead to product development. Through blogs, or other two-way communication (such as Facebook and Twitter) we can secure that what we say and communicate about our products and services is consistent with our customers’ experiences. We can also get a deeper understanding about who our customers are, what they need and how they want to enjoy their journey.

Last year you have done two campaigns where a host of bloggers travelled with Stena Line. Can you tell us a bit more?
We think that there is no better way than to give our customers the opportunity to describe their own journey with us. It gives us and our potential customers a personal story about other traveler’s experiences. We try to have a strategic mindset when working with social media, and any campaign should also be an integrated part of our PR, marketing and sales strategy.

So last year we came up with the idea of a campaign called “The Blogger bus 2011”. We started with asking ourselves the following question: How can we create a credible online campaign involving bloggers? The result of our brainstorming was the idea to fill an entire bus with bloggers and to take them on a trip that they were blogging about. We also partnered with other companies focusing on the same target groups as Stena Line. In order to be part of the journey, bloggers had to participate in a competition, as we decided to look for “Sweden’s best childish fun blogger 2011”. In the end 15 blogging parents and their children got the chance to travel with a bus and ferry to Denmark for four days.

The jury judged the contestants on their blog posts and on how they described their journey from a parent’s and child’s perspective as well as on how children and adults can have fun and play together on their holidays.

We also did a second trip to Germany, but this time we concentrated more on travelers that enjoyed culture, dinning and wine. That hosted activity was named the Guide bus.

What was the main goal of involving bloggers in that way?
Measurements show that the degree of credibility and trustworthiness online is much higher for people we know and even for those we do not know than for companies who we only have business relationship with. Therefore it makes sense for us to be transparent and to let our customers and potential customers tell their own story about how it is to travel with Stena Line.

How will you continue to connect the worlds of blogs and social media with Stena Line in 2012?
We started the year with releasing a social login feature on all our websites in Scandinavia. To avoid customers having to remember yet another password, Stena Line has made it possible to boook trips and review already booked trips through a personal Facebook or Google account. A clear trend within social media is the focus on customer benefits and usefulness, and this is a good example of that. We have a lot of other interesting and exciting projects in the pipeline involving user generated content and social media that we are looking forward to roll out.

3 cool features of Twingly Live

At Twingly we always have been big fans of the real time web. Thus, as soon as we realized that Twitter would become a real hit, we decided to develop a tool that shows a real time stream of tweets containing any hashtag or keyword. We called it Twingly Live and launched it in the end of 2009.

Twingly Live doesn’t only come handy when trying to understand the volume of tweets about a specific topic. It’s also a good way to introduce others to a specific meme or hot trend on Twitter.

Today we want to show you three cool features of Twingly Live that you maybe haven’t paid attention to yet:

Embed a Twingly Live widget into your blog or website

You can embed any Twingly Live stream into your blog or website, for instance to illustrate how popular something you have blogged about is on Twitter. Simply go to http://live.twingly.com, choose the Stream you want to embed (e.g. a stream you have just created; use ctrl + f to search the list) and click on the “embed” link in the right column.

In the following window you find some options to customize the widget. After you are done, copy the code shown and paste it into your website.

Embed the Twingly Live widget into your wesite

See the most popular tweets for a Twingly Live stream

For an increasing number of Twingly Live streams we provide a toplist tab called “Top 20”, which lists the most popular tweets for that specific keyword within a given time period (last half hour, last 2 hours, last 24 hours, last week).

The Twingly Live streams which don’t have the toplist link simply don’t get enough tweets.

Twingly Live toplist

Embed a toplist widget

This is a little hiden feature that for now only those of you get to know who read the Twingly blog : ) In the same way as you can embed a Twingly Live stream you also can embed a toplist.

For that, find the desired keyword in the list on http://live.twingly.com, click on the “embed” link in the right column. Now when you see the embed code, copy it and paste it into your website. After that is done, remove the link from the code (which starts with http://static.twingly….) and enter the following: http://live.twingly.com/toplist/** Instead of **, add the name of the stream (which you see when opening the stream in your browser).

And if you are totally new to Twingly Live, simply create your own stream to try it: http://live.twingly.com (then click “Create Twingly Live” and follow the instructions)

How much does the Social Web care about Traditional Media Online?

That could be a question worth investigating, we thought. Not that we are the first ones to do so, but we decided to dig into that by using our new kid on the block, Channels.

As you know, Channels are now in open beta and free to play with. If you haven’t checked it out yet, then put this onto your list of fun tasks for your lunch breaks to come.

Anyway, we also had a play with it. We set up a news channel for each of a selected country, mainly based on the RSS of the biggest national newspapers. Then we took a look at which articles ended up in “top stories” of each Channel.

Which article or item gets listed as “top story” in a Channel depends on
– how many blog entries link to them
– how many mentions in microblogs like Twitter
– how old they are (publishing date)
– how many “likes” they get from Channel users
– how many comments they get from Channel users

Since Channels is quite new, there are clearly not many “likes” or comments from users yet. Which is nice for this little analysis right now. We will however launch more features quite soon, which will make Channels quite a powerful tool, and a very flexible one to use, too. So bear with us, please.

Now, these are our “candidates”:
UK Germany France Netherlands Spain Portugal Poland Sweden Norway and Italy.

What we wanted to see, was how blogs and tweets respond to news articles, thus pushing news into “top stories” and that way making them the headlines of the day in the social media sphere.

Comparing all these, there are quite some striking scenarios to look at. The strongest Channels in terms of linking blogs and tweets are without a doubt UK and Sweden. Taking a closer look at both, one notices that all top stories on the Swedish Channel usually have far more blog posts referring to them than tweets! In Norway it looks largely the same – almost all top stories get discussed more on blogs than on Twitter.

In the UK and Germany, news, it seems are increasingly more discussed on Twitter rather than on blogs. The majority of top stories in these Channels get partly a massive amount of tweets, but only a few blog posts refer to them.

That raises the question – is there a stronger blogging culture in Scandinavia? Here at the moment represented by Norway and Sweden? Do 14 million people (almost 5 million in Norway, about 9 million in Sweden) have more bloggers or better saying more active bloggers that link to news sites than a nation with over 60 million people like the UK? Or is it the “Twingly Effect” on our home grounds Sweden and Norway, as we sometimes secretly call it? In both countries almost all major newspapers show blog posts that link to them, most of them using  our Blogstream solution, or, like Aftonbladet, their own solution.

It could also be simply a difference in culture. It is much easier and faster to share opinions via tweets in fast paced countries like i. e. UK and Germany, rather than typing up a blog post. From my own experience I know that life here in Sweden is much calmer, means one has the peace of mind to write up some more complex thoughts that need more than 140 characters. If you ask me, I think it is a good mixture of both.

What about the rest?

The Dutch and Spanish are tweeting and blogging quite a bit, too, articles being more quoted in tweets than blogged about. Same scenario with the Portuguese and French, just with a slightly lower intensity. In Italy and Poland we see  few to no links, regardless whether they come from tweets or from blog posts. This scenario corresponds pretty much to what we know from friends in these two countries. Italy being more of a TV-country due to known reasons (watch i.e. Videocracy if you haven’t done so yet), and in Poland it seems the development simply isn’t that far yet. However, the Polish social media development will be really interesting to follow over the next year or two.

According to Channels, these newspapers are the celebrities in terms of who gets quoted most on blogs and on Twitter:

UK: The Guardian and The Daily Telegraph
Germany: Der Spiegel and Focus
France:
Well mixed scenario with Le Monde Le Figaro Le Point and 20minutes leading
Spain: Another good mix with El Mundo and El País leading
Portugal:
Publíco (a customer of ours for Blogstream, we’d like to point out proudly)
Netherlands:
De Telegraaf (another news site with Blogstream) and NRC Handelsblad
Norway: Verdens Gang (uses Blogstream)
Sweden: Dagens Nyheter Expressen (both with Blogstream) and Aftonbladet (running their own solution resembling Blogstream) lead.

It could be interesting to see if the described scenarios would shift in any direction, if some newspapers online would start using a trackback solution, start showing and promoting  links from blogs linking to them. Could there be another increase of links from blogs for sites like Guardian or Spiegel? Or could other, even smaller newspapers become equally popular?

Would you like to share any thoughts or experiences on this? Go ahead. Especially when you think, we may have missed something important, be it a source in one of the Channels or anything else. On that note, Times.co.uk we could unfortunately not take into account because of their pay-wall.

//Anja Rauch